by Ken Sanes
In addition to offering a critique of contemporary America, Logan's Run is also a symbolic reenactment of various issues that deal with individual human development. In particular, it tells a story, in disguised form, about what it means to escape a dysfunctional family; what it means to grow out of a neurotic personality; and what it means to be born. Once again, the movie uses these subjects as its raw material and it comments on them.
In the first of these realms of meaning, the city is a disguised depiction of a family. The computer, with the not-young but almost-seductive female voice, represents the classic, overindulgent, entrapping mother who keeps her children dependent and locked away from the world. The computer feeds and houses them; it incubates them; it keeps them in a constant state of satisfaction and it teaches them falsehoods that stop them from going out into the world and discovering the meaning of adulthood. They, in turn, remain children, in a perpetual state of symbiosis with her, until she destroys them when they begin to get too old, and, perhaps, too wise or independent, so she can make way for her next set of children.
The world outside the city is the world outside the home, the world of adulthood, freedom, work and responsibility that the children are sheltered from. It is clearly portrayed as a masculine world, a world that could be brought to them by the father if he were present. Logan and Jessica encounter one such father figure just before exiting the city, in the robot, which is depicted as male in gender. But the robot turns out to be another variation on the mother, consuming the children it is supposed to be caring for. (It may or may not be relevant that the robot's name is "Box," a slang term for the female genitals, conveying the idea that it is a father of the same nature as the mother depicted in the movie).
After Jessica and Logan make their way beyond Box to the outside, they soon see the Washington Monument towering in the distance, which, clichéd as it may seem, announces that they have entered a masculine, phallic world. When they journey to the city that houses the monument, they encounter what there is of the true father, in the old man. He is weak and has little power, and is portrayed as much like a child himself, reciting comic verse from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. He also lives in exile from the family and is excluded from a position in the family network.
But he is still adequate enough to do his job, which is to teach Logan and Jessica the facts about man and woman, and life, that the mother was keeping from them, so they can become adults. Logan then enters into the cycle of marriage, procreation, aging and death, and replaces the mother with a wife. Jessica's role in this is clearly that of an outsider who takes a young man away from his over-controlling mother. Jessica is a critic of the society from the start, and she pulls Logan along as she recognizes that people were meant to marry and create families.
Why did the mother send her son out into the world? Ostensibly, it is in an effort to end all opposition to herself by destroying sanctuary. Although it isn't supported by the elements of the story, we might also see it as a disguised act of altruism.
In any case, after the child grows into adulthood, he is then depicted as enacting one of the classic fantasies of childhood: he returns as a hero who will save the other children in the family. On his return, he is shunned and almost martyred; but in the end he gets his revenge against the persecuting mother, destroys her and establishes a healthier family, with himself as leader and with a wife to complete the set.
It is no exaggeration to say that fiction is full of overthrows like this. No sooner do writers and daydreamers of any era begin to spin out stories then substitute parents are escaped from, revenged upon and overthrown. infantilizing mothers and domineering or distant fathers, wearing the endless masks of fiction, are constantly depicted as keeping their growing children from adulthood and lovers, as a result of jealousy, the fear of competition, or a failure to recognize that their children have grown up. As the literary theorist Northrop Frye shows, the happy ending of comedy often leads to a new, more open, society after a persecuting father who was keeping the lovers apart is overthrown. (1)
Even as the city is a symbol of a dysfunctional family of the kind described by psychoanalytic theory, it is also a symbol for a neurotic mind that is a product of such a family. The computer is the internalized parent, especially the super-ego, that monitors, controls, and punishes. The mall-like public spaces of the city are the ego and the conscious personality, a well-ordered world, overseen by the super-ego. The place where barbaric children run wild is the Id or the repressed unconscious, where the primitive desires of childhood that threaten the ego and flout the demands of the super-ego are exiled and live in a state of anarchy. And the city's walls and isolation is the neurotic mind's effort to defend itself against the truths of life that it refuses to recognize.
The journey down through the labyrinthine bowels of the city, passed ancient, long-dead, machines that once drew food from the sea, is a journey through the ancient, Jungian, collective unconscious, the roots of the mind. The city is now isolated from these portions of itself, just as it is largely isolated from the roots of life. (Although it is still said to draw power from the sea, the source of life, so its isolation isn't complete.)
Logan's journey through this realm is particularly rich with symbolism. As in psychoanalysis and Jungian therapy, the only way Logan can get beyond the artificial world of neurosis and out into the world is through the personal and collective unconscious. The way in is the way out.
So, here, Logan's Run is a story of the end of neurosis, the end of the effort to turn the self into a defended world -- defended from adulthood, and from the truth about men and women, birth and death. Logan, as a representative of the city's ego, gets beyond the fear induced by the internalized mother and delves into the unconscious, where he discovers the eternal truths and is then free to enter adulthood. In this realm of meaning, the old man is an image of the father that exists in the mind, although he can also be a grandfatherly figure who is a Jungian archetype of an old wise man.
Logan's relationship to the other sandman -- Francis Seven -- is one of a number of keys to understanding the meanings that refer to family and mind. Throughout the first part of the movie, Logan and Francis are inseparable: they stalk runners together, they enjoy women together (2) and they share their thoughts with each other. In this relationship, Francis is clearly the more dominant and aggressive of the two, putting Logan on the spot and deciding how they will use their time together.
Then, after Logan becomes a runner, Francis clearly feels betrayed and he stalks Logan in an effort to kill him. When Francis catches up with the couple, he grabs Jessica and, while holding her prisoner, he talks to her like a spurned lover talking to a rival:
"What did you do to him? You know what he was? He was a sandman. He was happy. You ruined him. You killed him."
What we see here is obviously two love triangles: the primary one in which Logan leaves the mother for a life outside with Jessica, and a second one in which he leaves Francis for Jessica.
In terms of psychoanalytic symbolism, this is a variation on a classic story about neurosis and growth, told in disguised form. Logan is kept imprisoned by his seductive mother, who infantilizes him, makes marriage to another woman taboo, and separates him from his weakened father. His desires for intimacy are then directed to another man, either because he is still a child or, if we see him as an adult, because his interest in women and/or the mother are being displaced. But Logan escapes the mother's clutches, learns the facts of life from his father, abandons his homosexual "object choice" and takes a wife, in which intimacy and sex will be brought together for the first time.
Just as the movie includes these disguised accounts of family and mind, so it also includes the unmistakable symbolism of birth. According to the psychiatrist Stanlislav Grof, birth involves four stages. First, he says, the fetus is in the protected environment of the womb, which can be an idyllic world of constant satisfaction, although it can also involve intrusions or noxious elements. Second, the uterine contractions begin, closing in on the fetus, even though the uterine cervix is still closed, creating a "no exit" situation for the fetus. Third, birth begins as the fetus is pushed through the birth canal. And finally, there is birth, into a life of separation, openness, the end of the constant satisfaction of needs, and a new vulnerability.
Grof believes we experience all this as we are born and re-experience it later in life, usually in disguised form, in all kinds of feelings and ideas about oceanic ecstasy, paranoia, entrapment and so on. He also believes we can remember it directly under certain conditions, which seems unlikely, although not impossible.
What is interesting, here, is that the first part of Logan's Run reveals all four of these stages in a distinct form, suggesting that, in addition to everything else, the movie is a disguised depiction of the process of birth. First Logan is in the protected womb of the city, living a life of constant satisfaction, but one that is also intruded on by a few moments of doubt. Second, his life clock is speeded up and he suddenly experiences anxiety, paranoia, and a desire to escape, but without a way out yet being visible. Third, he and Jessica journey through the labyrinthine bowels or rather, the birth canal, of the city, still anxious and suffering paranoia because of the pursuit of the other sandman. Grof says that when this third phase of travel down the birth canal is being depicted, it often involves scatological images, and images of great releases of energy that, among other things, can involve machines and floods. Logan and Jessica's journey out of the city includes all of this -- they are carried away by a flood of water; they encounter a technological infrastructure, and they travel through places with grime and junk. Finally, in phase four, they emerge into the outside, a world full of light, separation, vulnerability, and a new independence.
There are all kinds of more specific references along the way that also convey these ideas. At one point, for example, Jessica temporarily takes off her clothes and Logan his shirt, ostensibly because they are wet and cold. This is partly an excuse to show us Jenny Agutter, who plays Jessica, undressed. But it also takes place just before they meet the robot "Box" and then emerge into the outside. Like all infants, they will emerge out of their mother without clothes. (They actually end up putting their clothes back on before exiting, since it would have looked a little odd for audiences to see them emerging into the outside, in awe of the sun, ready for a new beginning, standing there with all their parts hanging out).
Another evidence of birth symbolism can be seen soon after they exit to the outside. As they skinny dip (the clothes are off again), Jessica shows Logan that the crystal implanted on their palms is no longer lit up, which, as noted earlier, means they are no longer connected to the computer, and it no longer has control over them. In other words, the umbilical cord has been broken.
When Logan and Jessica return to the city and swim through the underwater vents, to plant the new idea of freedom and engender a new society, we are given a disguised depiction of insemination. As a result, the egg of the city breaks open (or the mother dies in birth, if one wants to stay closer to the imagery of human birth) and the inhabitants are born as free men and women.
Although all this birth symbolism is perceived in its own right by audiences (mostly outside of awareness), it also deepens the symbolism about family, mind, and society. Leaving one's family, the movie says, is a second birth. We are born physically, once into the world, separated from our mother's womb, and a second time into the world of adulthood in which we separated from our mothers' arms and become truly independent. But the separation we undergo can't merely be a physical separation; it also has to be in ourselves. The other sandman leaves the city, as well, but learns nothing about what it means to be "outside", and so he has to die.
Meanwhile, the old man isn't far from undergoing the final "birth" of life, into death, and he gets Jessica to promise to bury him after he dies. Before they are born into the world, the inhabitants of the city experienced none of this, and so they were never exactly alive.
Once we see all this psychoanalytic symbolism, we can link it up with the social criticism described in the previous section, to provide one possible meaning of the movie. Here, the movie portrays the generation that came of age in the 60s (or failed to come of age) as one whose mothers spoiled and sheltered them to hold on to them, and whose fathers didn't have the strength to offer an alternative. This element of meaning is clearly an act of blame. The self-indulgence, lack of masculine virtues and endless childhood of the 60s generation, it tells us, is the fault not of that generation, but of mom, who feminized the culture and infantilized her children. With this idea, the movie offers us a psychological interpretation of the 60s generation that helps that generation deny its own responsibility in shaping society and itself, although there is undoubtedly some truth in it, as well, about the indulgence of parents, if not only of mothers.
The movie can also be perceived as a more general critique of culture that uses ideas about family and gender. Ours is a feminized culture without fathers, it says, which treats its inhabitants like children. Others have said these same thing in the more direct language of social theory and criticism.
Beyond this, there is a more interesting message -- that to be free and truly mature, we have to separate from our culture and society, just as we have to separate from our mothers in the act of being born and growing up. This message will be discussed in the final section.
Now that the elements of meaning referring to family, personality and birth, and of society and culture, have been offered, one might wonder precisely where all this symbolism resides. Is it inherent in the text, waiting to be discovered?
The only answer that makes sense is that all or most of it was initially put there by those who gave the movie and the book their shape. Some is put into the movie consciously and deliberately, some is put in without the authors being aware they are doing so, and some is partly perceived. The authors derive their material from emotionally-invested schemas of the self's relationship to significant others and to life, that is embedded in their minds as a result of their own upbringing. As we will see, all kinds of other images, of society, culture and myth become incorporated into these models, and draw much of their emotional force from them.
These meanings are then picked up by audiences, whose personalities are constructed out of the same kinds of emotionally-invested cognitive schemas. Precisely what meanings audiences are aware of; how they present it to themselves; and what they respond to will depend on the psychodynamics of each person and on the culture they share.
This means that the authors are communicating information to the audience, and either side may send or receive parts of the message consciously or outside of conscious awareness or anywhere in between. So all of this is a communication, just as much as the more obvious elements of the movie are. It is just that the authors and audience experience various degrees of denial about what is being said. Put another way, all of this is the movie, and all of it contributes to the aesthetic experience of the audience.
Of course, this is a communication with a number of communicators. These ideas are contained to one degree or another in the book. But those who shaped the movie took these elements, and adapted and reassembled them, to tell a more coherent and detailed story about the meaning of freeing oneself from limits imposed by internalized parents. (3)
This explanation isn't unique to movies. All human communication and all the representations we create involve overt and covert messages. And as many social scientists have shown us, those covert messages are often about our relationships, and about the essential issues of life. Not infrequently, various people will collaborate, each shaping a part of a larger communication that ends up telling one coherent story.
It should also be noted that none of this means the authors were necessarily reading books on psychology or human development, or on Herbert Marcuse, Peter Berger, anti-psychiatry or Marx. (Not having interviewed the authors or read accounts of their lives, I don't have access to information that might help answer that questions.)
What it does mean is that the authors derive their ideas, first, from basic human perceptions, about power, freedom and illusion, that both they and all those theorists draw from. All of these ideas -- about neurosis, health and development, about the illusions created by those in power, and the social construction of our world view -- are already contained in the cognitive schemas of the min, waiting for the authors to express them in disguise or in more obvious ways. This assertion is confirmed by the fact that stories that were written long before these theories were formalized convey the same ideas. In addition, of course, these ideas were also in the air at the time; they were part of the cultural environment the authors drew from in creating their story.
Trying to determine if the authors were engaged in a conscious or unconscious communication is further complicated by the fact that Hollywood has also taken these ideas and used them deliberately and with conscious intention, in an effort to manipulate audiences. Some movies contain such obviously contrived psychoanalytic symbolism, for example, that it is obvious the creators are consciously trying to play to the unconscious of their audience. Interviewing the creators of movies and other forms of story-telling, and gathering information about them, (which may invade their privacy) would also provide information but, in many instances, it would probably fail to settle these questions, due to all kinds of limitations imposed by faulty memory, deception, self-deception and difficulties drawing lines of cause and effect when the cause isn't observable.
(1) Partial footnote: Northrop Frye: Anatomy of Criticism 1957 Princeton University Press Princeton New Jersey, 163-186.
(2) The movie portrays three images of women that are well known to Hollywood: sex objects, a loving wife and a persecuting mother.
(3) The actors, set designers, et al, are also authors of part of the communication. And various other individuals and circumstances can impose conditions that affect the meaning.